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Breakthrough Reported Allowing Repatriation to Proceed

January 13, 1993

PALENQUE, Mexico (AP) _ Thousands of Guatemalan war refugees exiled in Mexico have settled a last dispute with their government, clearing the way for repatriation, a negotiator said today.

The Guatemalan government, after six hours of negotiations in Guatemala City, agreed to the refugees’ demand that they be allowed to enter the country on the Panamerican Highway rather than a remote jungle road.

In return, the refugees agreed to postpone for 15 days their return from Mexico, which was to begin today, said Herminio Cardona, a spokesman for the refugee negotiators, speaking by telephone from the Guatemalan capital.

The government, which had not confirmed the successful conclusion of the talks late Tuesday, has said it is not prepared to receive the refugees.

Some 45,000 Guatemalans, mostly Mayan Indians, fled their homeland after three decades of guerrilla war that killed at least 120,000. Soldiers slaughtered thousands of Indians in the early 1980s in campaigns against leftist rebels.

Peace talks between the government and rebels begun in August have faltered, and many military officers accuse poor communities of being support bases and ideological training grounds for rebels.

Cardona is a member of the Permanent Refugee Commission that represents nearly 4,000 refugees, many of whom were already marching Tuesday from jungle camps in southern Mexico to the border.

Cardona said the development clears the way for the U.N. High Commission on Refugees to provide transportation and other logistical support that would take the refugees in buses and other vehicles - not on foot - to the border crossing at La Mesilla.

The U.N. commission for refugees had said Tuesday it could not provide transport until a route was agreed.

Cardona said U.N. support could be arranged over the next two weeks.

Although the government and refugees agreed in October on ground rules for the return of a first group from Mexico, their route had remained undecided.

The refugees had complained that a remote road preferred by the government might leave them open to army attack and also make reporting of their journey more difficult.

The refugees hope that world attention, heightened by the awarding of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize to Guatemalan exile Rigoberta Menchu, will help them successfully complete the repatriation.

Menchu, a Quiche Maya Indian, fled Guatemala in 1981 after her mother, father and brother were killed. She was in Guatemala City on Tuesday seeking to clear the way for the repatriation and today spoke with President Jorge Serrano.

Menchu was to fly today to Comitan, a Mexican city 30 miles from the border, to inform refugees gathering there of the breakthrough, Cardona said.

He said the first of 1,300 refugees who began walking from camps in the Yucatan states of Campeche and Chiapas this week would await U.N. buses rather than cross on foot today.

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